Summary: The major threat facing the church is False Teaching. So Paul encourages Timothy to concentrate on what matters most.
Sermon by Rev George Hemmings
I wonder what you think the greatest threat facing the church is? Secularism and the push to privatize religion? The rise of militant atheism that’s always ready to attack Christianity? Perhaps it’s young people with their lack of respect? Or old people stuck in their ways? Globally, we’re regularly reminded of the bombing of churches, such as took place in Pakistan recently. We’re reminded of the threat of persecution from those outside the church.
As we’ve read through 1 Timothy, we’ve seen other threats facing the church. Paul constantly charges Timothy to confront the threat posed by false teaching. Flowing from this is the threat posed by poor leadership. There’s also the threat of disunity, and of the community failing to care for itself. Three times in the letter, Paul refers to the threat posed by the enemy, by Satan, who prowls around looking for an opportunity to destroy the church. Surely this is the greatest threat, the greatest danger facing the church?
But, the truth is, the greatest danger comes from within. The greatest danger is that we allow any of these other things to distract us from the truth. The greatest danger facing the church is that we lose our focus on what counts, that we fail to keep a firm grip on our faith.
So in verse 11 Paul repeats his commission to Timothy. He repeats his warning to stay focused, to not to allow anything to draw us away. ‘But as for you, man of God, shun all this.’ In the first half of chapter 6, Paul describes the effects of following unsound doctrine. (As Ian put it so succinctly last week, bad root results in bad fruit). ‘But as for you’, indicates there should be a distinction. Those who follow unsound teaching, those who’ve lost their focus live like this, but as for you, something different is expected.
In his charge, Paul address Timothy as ‘man of God.’ This echoes a term used in the Old Testament of the leaders of God’s people. It’s vitally important that leaders don’t lose their focus, because it’s their job to help keep everyone else on track. But that doesn’t excuse everyone else. It’s just as important that everyone keeps focused on what counts.
The first part of that involves shunning, fleeing from, all this. At the very least Paul’s referring back to what we saw in chapter 6. We’re to totally avoid any teaching that doesn’t conform to the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ. We’re to shun teaching that isn’t in accordance with godliness we’re meant to be striving for. We can’t allow ourselves to be drawn away from the truth. We have to reject pride, envy, slander. And we can’t allow the love of money to replace our faith in God. The first part of keeping focused on what counts, is not focusing on anything else. Paul highlights this in his final, emphatic words. In verses 20-21, he warns that by letting themselves be drawn away by false teaching, some have missed the mark!
Staying focused doesn’t just involve avoiding some things. It also means pursuing others. We’re to flee from error, and follow Christ’s example. So we’re to strive for righteousness and godliness, seeking to be holy and blameless. We’re to be people of faith and love, belief and action. To this, Paul adds that we must pursue endurance. As we heard back in chapter 4, we must constantly practice being godly. It’s not like riding a bike, where we master it and move on. Every day, every moment of every day, every situation we find ourselves in, we must pursue godliness. We have to continually stay focused on what counts, maintaining our faith and a good conscience. Following Jesus is a life long journey, it’s a marathon, one that we have to run with perseverance and endurance. Even when the going gets tough, when we face opposition, we need to maintain gentleness.
The six things Paul lists here aren’t the only things we’re meant to strive for. They’re to bring to mind all that is called for holiness. So we’re to flee from unrighteousness, and flee towards righteousness.
Paul knows that staying focused isn’t an easy task, but it’s an important one. Throughout the letter Paul’s used the language of a fight, or struggle, and he continues it here. It’s going to be a battle, one against false teachers, against our innate apathy, against the wiles of the devil. We can’t afford to lose focus, to get weary or complacent in our faith.
Knowing it’s going to be hard, Paul encourages us to keep our eyes fixed on the prize. He instructs Timothy to, ‘Take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession.’ A few verses later on, (vv14-15), we’re reminded of the truth that Christ will return. We know that when he does, those who persevere in their faith will join him in heaven, forever. Remembering this should encourage us to stay focused! We’re to look to the finish line, eternal life with God in heaven.